By Gloria Marie Alcantara, 12th Grade
Disney Studios has found itself refacing an old controversy from three years ago when they released the first look at their newest live-adaptation of the Little Mermaid set to release next year. This adaptation has been one that has been both dreaded and anticipated, not by the little kids who want to see Ariel, but by the older audiences that wish to revisit their nostalgic childhood with the beloved mermaid that endeared them so much many years ago. However, a shocking revelation fell upon them when they realized their innocent redhead was going to be played by an interesting actress–one that apparently did not satisfy the masses.
The heated discussion when it comes to race-swapping characters was ignited once again when it was revealed that the actress Halle Bailey would be portraying the determined redhead we all know as Ariel. At the revelation, first seen 3 years ago, the hashtag #NotMyAriel became the trending topic as many disagreed with incredible fervor at the idea of Princess Ariel being played by a black woman. According to dissenters, the notion of characters that were originally white being adapted and played by non-white actors pushes a diversity quota that seems to be forced and seems like a cheap attempt to satisfy the black masses who wish for more representation. Instead, they are “advocating” for more original black characters to supposedly include more ethnicities and races in their fantasy stories. This seems to be the most prevalent issue with the casting, and it would be ignorant to dismiss these concerns, as they do exist in our media. The lack of black characters, especially in animation and fantasy, should be done with more care and without any negative connotations attached to them. Although the latter is indeed true and something that should be discussed, that is not the case here. We are not seeing a cheap attempt at black representation with the Little Mermaid. What we are seeing is that a black woman did the best job at portraying the very essence of Ariel, and having the powerful voice that she has, white people can’t stand it.
The reasoning behind the disagreement for a black Ariel extends to more than one reason–some are trying to be subtle about why she really can’t be played by Halle Bailey, while others are doing the opposite. Some people are cursing at the masterminds of the entertainment industry for pandering the beloved films of their childhood to the devilish left and their extremely radical ideologies with this casting, ruining a film classic forever. The thought of the Little Mermaid being black in this adaptation is just too political and too “woke” for the Disney Adults that are clearly the intended audience for this movie. Others just don’t believe that it is realistic enough and that it would not make sense for Ariel to be black. As the original story is apparently set in Denmark in the 19th century, a black person existing in these areas is of lower probability than the existence of a mermaid back then. Not only that, but people argue that a mermaid having a darker complexion is “scientifically impossible” as the sun would not be capable of affecting her skin. They say it signifies a lack of realism–in a movie that features both magic and talking fish.
It is clear that some reasons are less well-constructed than others, however, the claim of forced representation seems to be misplaced here. It definitely comes with genuine intentions, however, this claim of “forced diversity” and the controversy of race-bending seems to be inconsistent. There was no backlash when the historical characters of the musical Hamilton, which is comprised of white Founding Fathers, were played by a cast that consisted mostly of people of color. There was no backlash when the Romani witch that we know as the Scarlet Witch in the MCU was played by white actress Elizabeth Olsen. Over the past century, there was no backlash against the casting of white actors in order to play black and Asian characters. White-washing was, and still is, a common practice in Hollywood. Claiming that double standards exist in the entertainment industry when it comes to race-bending characters is totally inaccurate. It has always happened behind the scenes, and much less uproar was created at the same time.
Essentially, a black actor getting to portray such a memorable character is much more than just a simple casting. Since the release of the trailer in September, thousands of videos of little black girls being delighted at the newest casting of the Little Mermaid have popped up all over the media. This is exactly why representation is important, regardless of how it’s done. For so many years, little black girls, including myself, had only had Princess Tiana as a Disney princess to see ourselves in. Even that was limited as she remained a frog for the majority of the movie. But now, all these little girls have another fantasy character to see themselves in the Disney franchise. That is more important than any other criticism regarding her casting, and if I have to fight more grown men about it on Twitter for the rest of my life in order to protect it, then so be it.